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Laurie Rubin's Technicolor Dreams

available at Amazon
L. Rubin, Do You Dream in Color?

available at Amazon
Do You Dream in Color?, L. Rubin, M. Stroke, N. Sivan

(released on February 14, 2012)
Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin is coming to Washington next week, to give a free recital at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage (October 22, 6 pm). While she is in town, she will speak on the radio to Diane Rehm and Bob Edwards and give a private performance at the National Endowment for the Arts. Rubin has just released a solo CD on the Bridge label, which includes her performances of two new song groupings composed for her, including one by composer Bruce Adolphe on poetry that Rubin also wrote. The event at the Kennedy Center coincides conveniently with the release of her new memoir, Do You Dream in Color? All of these are noteworthy achievements for a singer in her 30s, but Laurie Rubin wants, more than anything else, for her achievements to make a difference in the minds of decision makers in the music world, so that they will give other singers like her a chance.

Laurie Rubin was born blind. She discovered that she had loved singing and was good at it, so she went to music school, at Oberlin and for graduate studies at Yale. Among her many performances are some roles in staged operas, including the extensive solo part in Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. How does she do what she does? I reached Rubin on the phone in Hawaii, where she lives, earlier this week to find out.

How do you learn new music? Do you work from braille scores?

I do almost everything by ear. I read the texts of new music I am learning in braille, including in foreign languages. I got into reading braille music too late, I think, so it was hard to adapt to. I understood how music looked from having people describe it to me, but I always did things by ear. Sometimes I listen to recordings, a selection of them, a lot of different recordings, to make sure that I do not learn another singer's occasional mistakes. The music I have been performing a lot of recently, new music, is more difficult, because there are no recordings. Composers have made MIDI files for me, which are absolutely precise in terms of pitch and rhythm. Sometimes I record my learning and rehearsal sessions with the composer. It actually goes rather quickly, and it is not that different from what lots of musicians do regularly.

What was it like to write the poetry for the new song cycle, Do You Dream in Color?

It was pretty amazing. At that point, I had worked with other composers, but this was the first time that someone had asked me to write lyrics. I really wanted audiences to understand what happens in my life, which is something that you cannot really talk about under normal circumstances. It's like this big white elephant in the room. I am not really a poet, so it gave me pause at first, but the words flowed out so easily. It was apparently something I had wanted to express for a long time.

How closely do you listen to yourself when you sing? Do you think you hyper-focus on the sound of your voice more than singers who can see?

In a way I might be. For me my voice is the main means of expression. I have never seen body language, so for me the voice is the way I express. All of the singers I love and emulate -- Frederica von Stade, Plácido Domingo, Janet Baker -- I love the sound of their voices. I try to be a visual performer, to show what I feel also in my face. It is something that I have had to work on a lot over the years, but what I really care about is vocal color.

You have sung Poulenc’s La voix humaine and Penelope in Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria on stage. What other roles would you most like to sing?

Both of those roles are vulnerable women, which is perhaps what led the director even to think about casting me. There are roles that I will never do, because they require too much movement, like Carmen, but other roles seem more likely. I would love to sing Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. I love all his arias. Massenet’s Cendrillon. Debussy's Mélisande -- another fragile woman. Any Handel opera, and Monteverdi. I love Orfeo and The Coronation of Poppea.

What do you hope people will take away from your performances?

I hope now that conductors think more deeply, more creatively, about working with people with disabilities, and not just blind people. Opera characters do not have to be perfect people physically. After a while, the character is just the character. I hope that other musicians will think about that more openly, be willing to jump into the experience, and learn more about it.

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